NASA InSight’s Mars lander shuts down after 4 years

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — This could be the end of the red dusty line for NASA’s InSight lander, which fell silent after four years on Mars.

The lander’s power levels have been dropping for months because of all the dust covering its solar panels. Ground controllers at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory knew the end was near, but NASA reported that InSight unexpectedly failed to respond to communications from Earth on Sunday.

“It is assumed that InSight may have reached the end of its operations,” NASA said Monday evening, adding that its last communication was on Thursday. “It’s unclear what caused his energy to change.”

The team will continue to try to contact InSight, just in case.

InSight landed on Mars in 2018 and was the first spacecraft to document a Marsquake. It has detected more than 1,300 Marchquakes with its French-made seismometer, including several caused by meteorite impacts. The most recent earthquake detected by InSight, earlier this year, shook the ground for at least six hours, according to NASA.

Seismometer readings shed light on Mars’ interior.

Just last week, scientists revealed that InSight had scored another first, capturing a Martian dust devil not just in pictures, but in sound as well. Luckily, the swirling column of dust blew directly over the lander in 2021 when its microphone was on.

The lander’s other main instrument, however, only encountered problems.

A German digging device – intended to measure the temperature of Mars’ interior – never reached a depth deeper than a few feet (half a meter), well below the predicted 16 feet (5 meters). NASA declared him dead nearly two years ago.

InSight recently returned a final selfie, shared by NASA via Twitter on Monday.

“My power is really low, so this might be the last image I can send,” the team wrote on behalf of InSight. “Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and peaceful. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’ll be signing here soon. Thanks for staying with me.

NASA still has two active rovers on Mars: Curiosity, which has been roaming the surface since 2012, and Perseverance, which arrived early last year.

Perseverance is creating a sample repository; the plan is to leave 10 rock core tubes on the Martian surface as a backup for samples on the rover itself. NASA plans to bring some of these samples back to Earth within a decade, in its long-running search for signs of ancient microscopic life on Mars.

Perseverance also has a companion: a mini helicopter named Ingenuity. He just completed his 37th flight and has now logged over an hour of flying on Mars.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Education Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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